You are about to leave Risk Strategies website and view the content of an external website.
You are leaving risk-strategies.com
By accessing this link, you will be leaving Risk Strategies website and entering a website hosted by another party. Please be advised that you will no longer be subject to, or under the protection of, the privacy and security policies of Risk Strategies website. We encourage you to read and evaluate the privacy and security policies of the site you are entering, which may be different than those of Risk Strategies.
We grew up in the Miami area, have been best friends since high school and kept in touch when our paths in life diverged. After graduation, Nia got married to a career military man and moved quite a bit – overseas and around the country. Susana was going to college in Miami taking classes in court reporting when she got a job in the accounting department of an insurance company and then with a small insurance agency near the college.
With only about half-a-dozen employees, when the agency owner faced lengthy cancer treatments, she asked Susana to get licensed and help support the client base. A crash course later, Susana was binding policies and servicing clients. When the agency owner lost her cancer battle, Susana became the office manager and an active salesperson.
Eventually, the agency was sold and, not seeing a fit with the new owners, Susana did some networking. An interview with Combined Underwriters at a friend’s suggestion led to a sales position as a 1099 producer. Her former boss let her take some accounts along, forming a base of referrals. Helping a condominium association with a claim led to a successful bid on their insurance business the following year. This turned out to be Susana’s breakthrough account, generating many referrals, and a very busy book of business. Needing help to continue growing, Susana reached out to Nia.
Then in Alabama with two kids and a husband about to take an early military retirement, Nia was working part time and looking for her next move. That move, in 1996, was back to Miami to a job with her best friend at Combined Underwriters. Nia spent time learning the business while supporting Susana and studying to get licensed and begin selling.
The early years of the new century were a rollercoaster. Nia lost her mom in 2000. Two years later, with business growing, we formed our own sales partnership, operating jointly as 1099 producers within Combined, even as we managed office operations. Then, in 2003, Susana had a life-threatening aneurysm and high-risk surgery to repair it. During Susana’s three-month recovery, Nia handled office management and client support. These ups and downs strengthened our friendship and working relationship.
When one of Combined’s partners retired in 2009, the remaining partner convinced us to join Combined as officers in the company. In 2021, when that partner decided to retire, we bought him out and became full owners. Shortly thereafter, we a top-five national brokerage approached out of the blue about selling. We were not interested, feeling we had some road to run in our careers, but it made us realize we needed a succession path, had no sense of our options, nor how long lining up the right partner would take.
Later that year, with the business doing well, we had a chance encounter with a contact in the mergers and acquisitions space. He suggested testing the market for buyers. We were curious about how it worked but, just a year into running Combined on our own, were not eager to sell. We were growing and saw ourselves far from retirement. We gave him permission to explore options but made no commitment and said we did not want to waste time sorting through dozens of possibilities.
In October of 2022, he came back with five possible suitors. We did the first interviews via video conference, then met with the three we thought might best fit our goals. In the end, we took the best fit for our criteria, not the highest offer.
Our first priority was ensuring our employees would be treated well and get a fair deal. We did our own research before the meetings to get a feel for each firm and were impressed by Risk Strategies being named a best place to work. Secondly, we wanted to be sure the buyer fit with us – that we believed in their philosophies and approach to the business. We made sure we met with two or three different people from each firm to get a better sense of the character of the business. We came away from each Risk Strategies meeting feeling good about the rapport we had with the people in those individual conversations.
In making our final decision, we wanted to be in total agreement. We decided to each write our choice on separate pieces of paper. No match meant no deal. We both thought the other was going to choose a different firm, but when we turned the paper over, we had both written Risk Strategies.
We did not want what we worked so hard to build and cared so much about to be just another number on a ledger, it was clear to us that Risk Strategies cared about its people and the companies they bring into the family. They were truly genuine people who were not looking to fit our business into a paint-by-numbers corporate mold. We saw that we could continue building on what we were doing, but with more help behind us. Our people could spread their wings and grow their careers.
We had built a family at Combined Underwriters. With Risk Strategies, we simply joined a bigger one.